August 11, 2006
Middle East | Cambridge, MA
COAT OF ARMS
August 12, 2006
AS220 | Providence, RI
Going to a reunion show is, generally speaking, a bittersweet experience. In essence, it’s about staying in place, retreating to a skillfully re-created illusion of comforting familiarity. When the show fails to deliver on that objective, you’re treated to the jarring realization that the past you remember so seemingly vividly wasn’t all that freaking great. When it’s all served up seamlessly, the illusion is complete.
Neither one of the shows I went to this past weekend quite fulfilled that tall order of illusory time-warp. But both were satisfying when taken on their own terms. Throwing Muses remain, as ever, one of the most powerful live bands I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them a lot (hell, I even braved the world’s crappest TV show in order to see them perform).
I’ve seen the Muses enough, and in such far-flung venues, that I no longer even truly associate them with Providence (or Newport), or think of them necessarily as being a local band. Coat of Arms, on the other hand, bring me right back to Providence, c. 1987. I’d just moved back here from California. I’d started to get into weird comics (the weirdest I got at the time was Love & Rockets —I know, NOT WEIRD. But, context is everything, and I lived in a tiny cultural wasteland) and I figured it was time to branch out into music. I became friends with the school’s lone acid freak, who got me into the Velvets and Eno. (That was a slow process, but I got there eventually.) Somewhere along the way I bought some cassettes by local bands like Sleep that Burns, Stained Rug Theory, and Coat of Arms.
I bought Stained Rug Theory’s tape because it came in a fur pouch. I was reading lots of Bataille and Bellmer at the time and this struck me immediately as a perfect willfully perverse gesture. (To this day I cannot resist cleverly-packaged music.) Musically they satisfied the proto-Goth in me. They had a deeply inconsistent, histrionic sound —flickers of industrial grind, TG-like tape loops and psycho-sexual ennui melded rather clumsily to over-emoted vocals. I loved them for their colorful, surreal juxtapositions of musical textures —they were far better collagists than songwriters. But, hell, I love Max Ernst for the same reason, so…
Coat of Arms was a far different beast. They weren’t dark and conflicted like Stained Rug Theory. Their sound was comparatively sunny-sounding and all-American, fitting in nicely with their contemporaries (fIREHOSE, Pixies, Muses, Lemonheads). Songs like “Common Ground” and “Indoor Poolz” were giddy and effervescent, equal parts power-pop and kitchen-sink glam. (“(When I) Touch You There” went all jangle-pop on us.) The band’s reach often exceeded their grasp, but that was part of the fun. And Saturday’s one-time-only reunion show thankfully didn’t add any gloss to the proceedings. (And no, the cheekily earnest cover of “Borderline” didn’t count.)
Rather than plunge me into sepia-tinted nostalgia, the show only served to remind me how culture-deprived Providence was in those days. But, like anywhere, there were beacons of hope around if you took the time to look for ‘em. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that comics and music got me through high school.
Throwing Muses did too, in their own way. I don’t know how many times I’ve played their first album, but it never fails to offer up something revelatory. Back then, in the socially awkward years of late high school, it was the most cathartic album I owned. Unlike the over-determined, overly dramatic Joy Division, Kristin Hersh’s humble, skewed narratives really spoke to me in their allusive, conversational way. I don’t think I’d ever seen a female songwriter write so matter-of-factly, and so un-self-pityingly, about some of the blackest, bleakest experiences of her life. And she did it with such wry humor.
I have a lot more I could say about how much Kristin’s music has moved me, but this is getting long enough. I leave y’all with a few live Throwing Muses tracks from 1985, and one each from Stained Rug Theory and Coat of Arms.
Throwing Music Free Music. Lots of great stuff there, including “Shimmer” from Friday night’s Muses set. They’ll be releasing the entire set online in September. | Coat of Arms on MySpace. I imagine you can order the career retrospective by contacting them there. | No idea if any Stained Rug Theory is available online, but you could always contact Maurice Methot.
Coat of Arms, “Common Ground” (from 2006’s retrospective, Ancients + Terribles, Selected Recordings 1986-1988)
Throwing Muses, “Not Too Soon” (Live at WRIU, 1985. Tanya Donelly, vocals)
Throwing Muses, “Dirt Is On The Floor” (Live at WRIU, 1985. Elaine Adamedes, vocals)
Throwing Muses, “Doghouse/The Burrow” (Live at WRIU, 1985. Kristin Hersh, lead vocals)
LEFT: COAT OF ARMS ROUST! CASSETTE TAPE, 1987. RIGHT: THROWING MUSES FROM LORI TWERSKY’S MUSIC ZINE BITCH(c. 1987?)